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Our Pastors

Pastor John Roekle

Pastor John D. Roekle has been in Racine serving the congregation since 1996.  Ministry began for him in Florence, Wisconsin where he served St. John's Lutheran Church after graduating with a Master of Divinity degree from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin in 1991 until arriving in Racine.  Born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan, Pastor Roekle went to high school at Michigan Lutheran Seminary graduating in 1983.  His next four years were spent at Northwestern College (which amalgamated with Dr. Martin Luther College to form Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota), graduating in 1987.

In 1990, Pastor Roekle married Katherine (Katy) Behnke.  Together they have four sons: David (married to Hannah); Michael; Stephen; and Benjamin.  The Roekle family has enjoyed traveling, especially to cities with Major League Baseball parks.  He is an avid sports fan and still enjoys playing basketball.

Recent Sermons by Our Pastors:

Let the Peace of Christ Rule - Pastor John Roekle

August 11, 2019 [Pentecost 9] Colossians 3:12-17 J.D.Roekle

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Let the Peace of Christ Rule

Dear Friends in Christ,

On July 30, tensions ran high at a Cincinnati Reds-Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game. Suddenly, in the top of the ninth inning, the Reds pitcher charged the Pirates dugout and started throwing punches. A bench clearing brawl followed. Players from both teams rushed to the aid of their teammates involved. Most of what followed was some pushing and shoving with most of the players trying to break the conflict up.

While one brawl is too many, the number of brawls that happen in a season are pretty infrequent. If my numbers are correct, there are 2430 regular season major league baseball games a year. Each summer, there aren’t usually more than a handful of brawls during the games.

Why is that? What is it that keeps the peace? It is the presence of the umpires. The umpires are the ones who try to ensure that games are run in an orderly way so that things don’t get out of hand. And for the most part, they are successful in doing so.

If you think otherwise, imagine that these games were played without umpires. Is the runner at first out or safe? Was the pitch a ball or a strike? If left to the teams to decide, there would be a lot more tension and confusion. With the rule of the umpire, baseball games go relatively smoothly.

In a world of tension and confusion, the ruling principle of your life is to be the peace of Christ. You don’t have to look very far to see what happens when the peace of Christ does not rule in a person’s life. There is confusion about who you are. There is fear about the future, especially what happens when a person dies. There is no sense of how to treat other people. In short, the person who lacks the peace of Christ, lacks direction which manifests itself in that person’s life in various ways.

Many look for the peace which only Christ gives. Unfortunately, many are looking in the wrong direction. On Friday, Muslims from all over the world have flocked to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The event goes through Wednesday. This is the annual hajj or pilgrimage that Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime, if health and finances permit. The purpose of the event is summarized nicely by the Jerusalem Post: “Two million Muslims gathered at Saudi Arabia's Mount Arafat on Saturday amid the summer heat and regional tensions for a vigil to atone for their sins and seek God's forgiveness as part of the annual haj pilgrimage.”

They are seeking the only thing that can give them peace – the forgiveness of sins – but they are finding it in the wrong place. By taking this pilgrimage, they believe that they are earning the right to be forgiven. What they are missing is the peace that Christ alone can deliver.

You have the peace of Christ. And it isn’t something that you have to or even can earn. It isn’t something that you have to go out and find. Instead, it comes to you by faith. Faith in Jesus who conquered all conflict for you. Jesus achieved that peace for you by breaking down the barrier which your sin and mine put between us and God with his perfect life and sacrificial death. The fact that Christ lives again makes peace with God certain.

And you can be certain of that peace, because you didn’t find it. It found you. Peace found you when God chose you. He chose you to be his own to live under him in his kingdom in order to serve him.

As you live in the peace of Christ, you will be careful about what you wear. We need to be careful of that, because Paul reminds us that it is still our natural tendency to practice such things as: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry,” and the list goes on.

We are reminded that Christ died to rescue us from all those things. Daily, we want to confess where we’ve gone astray and daily we want to receive the forgiveness that only Christ can deliver. And in so doing we want to wrap ourselves in Christ’s righteousness. It is Christ’s righteousness that produces in us such things as: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiving each other’s grievances.

And the common thread through all of these things which we are to wear is love. This love is different from what the world knows. It is not simply a love that says I want to be your friend. It is not a love that is based on feelings.

The love we are to put on as Christians is found in Christ himself, who loved the unlovable, giving up his very life for us. And so, true Christian love is unconditional. It doesn’t say, I’ll love you if all these factors are in place.

Instead, this love expresses itself in showing kindness to someone who is in need…no matter who the person is. This love expresses itself by patiently correcting a child who keeps making the same mistake. This love expresses itself by forgiving someone who has wronged you by not holding it against them and by not continuing to bring it up. This love expresses itself by humbly putting others ahead of yourself.

When the peace of Christ rules hearts, it becomes evident in our everyday lives. And the only way the peace of Christ rules our hearts is when the word of Christ lives there.

In order for the word of Christ to dwell in our hearts, we need to be exposed to it often. You see, the word of Christ doesn’t come to us naturally. Jesus doesn’t reveal it through direct revelation to us. It comes through reading or hearing what the Bible says.

And hearing what the Bible says is a matter of priorities. Just ask Martha, who had to learn the lesson of priorities the hard way from Jesus himself. You heard Jesus’ words to her: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

The Lord wants his Word to stay with us. We are to use it in our daily interactions with people. We are to express it in our worship, and especially through our music. Music is a wonderful gift from God. The music we sing in worship touches the heart, mind and soul.

For all that our Lord has done for us, what else can we do, but say thanks. Thank you, Lord, for choosing us. Thank you, Lord, for your forgiveness of our sins. Thank you, Lord, for clothing us with your righteousness. Thank you, Lord, for all your gifts to us. And thank you, Lord, for the peace that you alone can give us. May it always rule our hearts and our lives! Amen.

What It Means to "Be a Neighbor" - Pastor John Roekle

August 4, 2019 [Pentecost 8] Luke 10:25-37 J.D.Roekle

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

What It Means to “Be a Neighbor”

Dear Friends in Christ,

About halfway between Jerusalem and Jericho today stands a museum marking the place called the ‘Good Samaritan Inn.’ The church father Jerome who was born roughly 300 year after Jesus ascended, first identified this spot as the place that Jesus was talking about in this parable where the Samaritan took the beaten man he found along the road. So, for some 1600 years, this spot has been marked. Christian churches were even built on the spot through the centuries.

What’s remarkable to me about this is that this is a parable. If you know anything about parables, you know that while Jesus always uses real life examples in his parables, he never indicates that all the details in the story are real. Was Jesus referring to a specific inn where the Samaritan took the beaten man? While the location of the Good Samaritan Inn is accurately placed on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, we have no way of knowing if Jesus was actually referring to this inn or any specific inn at all.

So why go to such great lengths to mark a site like the Good Samaritan Inn? I don’t pretend to know the motivation behind it, but I would like to think that in preserving the memory of the Good Samaritan parable, they are preserving the lesson that Jesus taught. After all, whenever Jesus speaks a parable, he is teaching a lesson. And the lesson taught with this parable is what is means to be a neighbor.

So what is our obligation as Christians as far as our neighbor, or as far as other people are concerned? The expert in the law who Jesus was speaking the Good Samaritan parable to stated it well: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Of course, he was simply quoting Scripture from Leviticus (19:18). That’s what God commands. Love your neighbor…as you love yourself.

Author Gary Burge writes about a modern day example of someone who took this command seriously in his book: Jesus, the Middle-Eastern Storyteller. He said that an Israeli soldier lay dying in a Jerusalem hospital. He had AIDS as a result of his gay lifestyle and was now in the last stages of his disease. His own family had disowned him, including his father who was a famous rabbi. The nursing staff knew his story and avoided his room. Everyone was simply waiting for him to die.

One evening, the soldier went into cardiac arrest. All the alarms went off, but neither the nursing staff nor the doctors responded. However, there was a janitor on the floor who also knew this man’s story. When he heard the alarms and saw that no one responded, he dropped his broom and attempted to resuscitate the dying soldier by performing CPR on him.

What makes the scene even more remarkable is who this janitor was. He was a Christian Palestinian. The soldier whose life he was trying to save was a part of the Israeli military unit that had attacked the janitor’s village.

Now that’s love. Loving your neighbor as yourself. Loving even your enemy. That’s certainly similar to the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable. Even though the Jews and Samaritans were at odds with each other, the Samaritan went out of his way to help the Jewish man who had been left for dead.

God wants you and me to be a neighbor to others as well. The Apostle Paul enforces this truth when he says: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.” (Galatians 6:10)

How are you doing with that? It is certainly easy to show love to those we are close to. Our family members, our friends. But what about those people who we don’t really know? Or what about those we don’t get along with?

Now certainly, in order to express love for others by helping them, we have to have the ability to do so. If you know someone who is an alcoholic or a drug abuser, you won’t likely have the ability to help them overcome the addiction. But at the very least, can’t you point them in the direction of someone who can help?

The thing is, we often set up roadblocks to God’s command to love our neighbor. What were the priest and Levite thinking as they passed by on the other side of the road, neglecting to help the fallen man? They may have been thinking that if they stop and help, they might get beaten up too! The road between Jerusalem and Jericho which Jesus referred to was known as treacherous road full of bandits. Are we hesitant to help others out because it may get kind of messy and we’re just not up to it?

The priest and Levite may have thought that this hurting man wasn’t really their neighbor. He wasn’t a part of their known world. He was a stranger that didn’t deserve their attention. Is that the excuse we give when we see someone who needs help? I don’t really know that person, or I don’t think that’s who Jesus wants me to help.

The priest and Levite also may have rationalized that they had no time to help. They had more important things to do. They had to fulfill the duties of their offices. They didn’t have time for this menial work. Is that perhaps your thinking? I just don’t have the time to help my neighbor.

Does the command to love your neighbor accept any of these excuses? Yes, love your neighbor, but only when it doesn’t get messy or difficult. Yes, love your neighbor, but remember that there are only certain people who qualify as your neighbor. Yes, love your neighbor, but only if you have time and it’s convenient for you.

No. The law does not put up with our excuses. The law condemns us even for sins of omission. When we fail to do something that God commands us to do, that is sin. When we fail to love our neighbor as ourselves, we are sinning.

It is then that we need to take these sins, too, to Jesus’ cross. Jesus carried all our neglect, all our thoughtlessness, all our selfishness with him to the cross and buried those things with him in the grave. Rising victoriously, Jesus assures us that our sins of omission will not stand as road blocks to our salvation.

In saving us, let’s not forget the other extraordinary thing Jesus did. He loved his neighbor as himself perfectly. He came to help everyone and he showed it as he interacted, taught and did miracles. Everyone was in his sights as he perfectly fulfilled the law.

During my recent trip to Israel, we learned firsthand from our guide the tensions that exist between Israeli citizens and Palestinians. There is no love lost between the two groups. So, what could have moved that Christian Palestinian janitor to perform CPR on that Israeli soldier, whose own unit had done harm to the Palestinian man’s village?

You know the answer. It is the love of Christ. Christ loved the janitor so much that he died for him. If Christ could love him, he could also love his neighbor.

It is Christ who has also shown his love for you. He is the one who motivates you and equips you in order to fulfill this command. It is Christ who has shown you what it means to be a neighbor. Amen.

Weapons in God's Arsenal - Pastor John Roekle

July 14, 2019 [Pentecost 5] Zechariah 13:7-9 J.D.Roekle

7 “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,

against the man who is close to me!”

declares the Lord Almighty.

“Strike the shepherd,

and the sheep will be scattered,

and I will turn my hand against the little ones.

8 In the whole land,” declares the Lord,

“two-thirds will be struck down and perish;

yet one-third will be left in it.

9 This third I will bring into the fire;

I will refine them like silver

and test them like gold.

They will call on my name

and I will answer them;

I will say, ‘They are my people,’

and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’ ”

Weapons in God’s Arsenal

Dear Friends in Christ,

When the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius destroyed the city of Pompeii (in A.D. 79), many people were buried in the ruins. Some took cover underground, and the place became their burial chamber. Those who chose a high hiding place were also unable to escape destruction. But a Roman sentinel was found at the city gate, his hands still grasping his weapon. That was where he had been placed by the captain. While the earth shook beneath him, while the flood of ashes and cinders overwhelmed him, he stood at his post; and it was there he was found a thousand years later.

More impressive than that is the fact that our God has never left his post. He continues to watch over us as he has since the day our hearts started beating. And God uses his full arsenal to ward off those enemies that try to destroy us. That doesn’t surprise us, does it?! We have come to expect that from God. And he reassures us of that.

What is surprising about God is when he uses some of the weapons in his artillery on his own. In fact, he used them on his one and only Son. And he even uses them on us. But let’s understand that God is not using them to destroy us. Far from it. He is using his weapons in order to transform us.

The prophet Zechariah in this book from Scripture is addressing the people who had been gone from Israel for 70 years. They had been taken into captivity by the Babylonian Empire. And now, they were allowed to go back. Back to their native land. Back to Israel. And as they returned, the Lord wanted to make sure that his people would know his love.

Think about how you express love to someone. You may simply relay it with what you say. You may express it in something you do/have done. You show love for a neighbor by giving them a helping hand. And expressing love to someone does not always involve a pleasant experience. You may have to speak to someone about a harmful path they are going down in order to draw them back.

But the love you express, while not always pleasant, never involves an act of violence against your loved one, does it? You and I would normally think of someone doing physical harm to a loved one or neighbor as the opposite of an act of love.

And yet, isn’t that precisely what God did? “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the Lord Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”

These words are surprising, aren’t they?! The Lord Almighty raises the sword against his shepherd. Do you recognize who he is talking about? He’s talking about Jesus.

In fact, Jesus quoted this verse on Maundy Thursday. As he was seated in the Upper Room with his disciples, Jesus quoted this verse as he said: “You will all fall away.” You may remember that it was Peter who spoke up and said that even if everyone else would fall away, he never would.

Jesus prediction came true as Jesus was arrested and the disciples scattered. Even Peter fell away as he denied Jesus.

But what was the point of all this. Did God have Jesus arrested, crucified, die, and be buried in order to get rid of his followers? Of course not! In fact, it was just the opposite.

Because we sin, we deserve the sword of God. We deserve to be struck down. To be killed and suffer the depths of hell as a result. When God struck the Good Shepherd, Jesus, down, it was an act of love on his part. He struck his Son down, so that we would be spared.

Even now, our sinful minds want to reject this truth. Because the truth is, following Jesus means that we too will endure the cross. Following Jesus can mean trouble in this life. So what is our natural inclination? Why should I put up with all this grief! Why should I endure hardship!

Well, God has an answer for you. He tells you to focus on the end goal. That one day you will enter into his glory with him. In the meantime, he wants you to know that he is working on you. You are his handiwork.

How does he work on you? Consider how he worked on the people of Israel and the disciples. First of all, consider why God allowed the people of Israel to be sent into captivity in Babylon in the first place. It wasn’t because he hated them. It was because he loved them.

This was a refining process. He wanted to separate the precious metal from the dross. The dictionary defines ‘dross’ as: foreign matter, dregs, or mineral waste, in particular scum formed on the surface of molten metal.” In order to remove the dross, the impurities from gold or silver, extreme heat is applied.

By allowing the Israelites to be taken into captivity, the Lord was working on extracting the impurities. Outside influences from other nations had crept in and introduced other gods. Many of the Israelites had fallen away from God. But there was a remnant of them that remained true to God. So that those remaining true to God wouldn’t also fall victim to false gods, the Lord allowed the captivity. It refined their focus on all of God’s promises, and especially the promise of the Messiah who was to come and save them.

The disciples also were a work in progress. Through their years with him, Jesus was constantly working on refining them. And it all came to a head during Holy Week. Jesus was arrested and the disciples scattered. They feared for their lives. Then on Easter morning, we see them huddled in a room trying to make sense of all this. Jesus finally appeared to all them twice, one with Thomas and once without.

What was the purpose in all this? It was to refine their understanding of who Jesus was and why he had come. And this refining worked. In our Gospel lesson, we see Peter confessing Jesus as “the Christ of God.” Yes, Jesus was the one anointed to do the work of God. To save us. And Thomas confessed something even more about Jesus when he said “My Lord and my God!” Jesus was truly God. The Son of God.

You and I need refining too. God refines us through trials and tribulations. It may be through physical pain and suffering. God may allow you to suffering sickness in order to refine you…drawing you to himself.

It may also be in the form of your faith being challenged. Think of how that happens. Someone challenges your faith. You are forced to respond. As you respond, you are forced to think about it more deeply. You are led back to recall what you have learned. You are led back to your Bible or catechism or to your pastor. It is through that process that doubt disappears and trust in Jesus is confirmed and strengthened.

When you face these kinds of challenges, remember that God has a good purpose in mind with them. The hymnwriter expresses it well:

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,

my grace all sufficient shall be thy supply.

The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design,

they dross to consume and they gold to refine.” (How Firm a Foundation)

The ancient city of Pompeii was just in the news this week. Experts have recently discovered that there are 7 to 10 unexploded bombs from World War II somewhere in the ancient site, most likely in an area that hasn’t been excavated yet. The guard found under the ashes with his weapon in his hands won’t be any help keeping people away from the danger that those unexploded bombs pose.

But you can rest easy today and every day. You have a God who has powerful weapons in his arsenal designed to transform you and keep you safe. He used his mighty sword to strike down our Savior in our place; while he uses his mighty fire to refine us. There’s no need to flinch at these powerful weapons because God is using them to further his kingdom.

Remember how God used these weapons in the lives of the disciples. They paid off. After Jesus rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, the disciples were commissioned to spread the Gospel. Without their shepherd, Jesus, you would think they might just cower in a corner. They didn’t. They were persecuted and told not to preach about Jesus, but they kept going. The book of Acts (5:41-42) tells us: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”

As children of God who are also refined by God’s fire, you can carry on with the Gospel. Live it and proclaim it to God’s glory! Amen.